For Alice Bag, this will be her first time performing in the Rio Grande Valley. For her fans here, perhaps this could be the ideal moment in time to have her perform in the border after months of a tumultuous legislative run by the state and federal government that has amplified discussions of race and identity in the U.S.
In a recent Pitchfork article, McAllen was described as a “City of Dreams” where artists and community activists often plan shows together to fight off discrimination and celebrate the region’s cultural and political resilience. At the center of much of this is a venue at the end of 17th Street in downtown McAllen called “Yerberia Cultura,” where Alice Bag will perform on June 16. Her performance is part of a 3-day festival known as GALAX Z FAIR VI on June 16, 17, and 18.
DANI: Has this political climate impacted or changed the way you do your work or connect with your audience?
ALICE BAG: The people I see and that I connect with are more politically motivated and involved than they were before. I don’t want to make it sound like I’m happy about it. I’m glad they’re involved but sad that this is the reason why. But sometimes when you’re pushed up against a corner, you learn how to fight back.
Part of what’s so hard for those of us against Trump is not just him, but everyone who voted for him. It emboldened people to make a racist comment or misogynist comment because all of a sudden the president is a symbol for that. So it’s important for us to have our own symbols and feel that we’re supported and that were in solidarity with each other. We also need to show that we’re the majority and that there’s more of us.
D: What is the role of punk rock in fighting against these attacks?
AB: It can have many roles. I think the role of an artist is to tell the truth. We need people to speak different personal truths and to make them relatable to others. But there’s also a huge need for people to express political views and to create a climate of a community for people with similar views.
As an older artist, I’ve learned how not to view myself as an individual. I mean, I think that’s part of who I am. I’m a person in this body, but that’s only a part of who I am. There’s a bigger me, and the bigger me is part of a community. So the things that happen to that community affect me. And I think we all need to start thinking of ourselves in those terms.
And as an artist, I can write personal things about this bigger me, which is my community. And if you look even further, it’s even bigger than a community, it’s my world. I have the ability to connect with the world. We all do. And we see how people in other countries react to Trump. I think we need to take a bigger worldview with our art in order to forge alliances and to really make art what it could be.
Art really changes people at the core. It can change the way you think. If you’re telling the truth, and people connect to that truth, then people become emotionally attached to that truth because they believe it, they feel it because it speaks truth in their body. I think that’s where you get real change when people believe things for themselves when they’re connected to a community that is connected to the world. And it can start with an artist who is telling their truth.
I think of these things and it’s almost religious for me. The way I think of art, music, punk. It’s how I view the world. I feel like I do make change just by speaking my truth and realizing others will connect.
When I wrote my book, Violence Girl, I wrote it for myself. I didn’t realize that so many people were going to find their own stories in my story. and feel that sense of being supported because someone else went through it and made it out. That’s really powerful as an artist.”
D: How has building community, organizing, and writing your music changed over time for you? Has it gotten easier?
AB: When I was younger I was a lot more naive. I feel like the only obstacle that has ever been in my way is my ignorance and that changes as you have more experience and learn more about people and how to communicate effectively. You learn to look at yourself differently. It’s not just your tiny world.
When were little kids, we’re very much like Trump, actually. Very egocentric and very much like ‘I want this, I want that.’ That’s normal for that stage of development. But then as you get older, you start thinking of others and your world grows. What I’m trying to tell you is that the biggest obstacle that I’ve encountered has to do with my own lack of vision. I’m much more aware of who I am now and my role in the world. When I was younger, I remember feeling that a Chicana had to be a certain thing. You had to go to MECHA meetings, and you had to dress a certain way and have a certain aesthetic. And I said, well that’s not really me. I’m a punk.
At that time I was into things where people dressed funny and a lot of people were gay or bi and definitely gender bending in their appearance. And for Chicanos in my neighborhood that wasn’t cool. Chicanos in the mid-70s were not super welcoming to people who looked and acted freaky. And so my lack of vision and self-confidence really kept me from saying, ‘hey, I can be a Chicana and I can open others’ minds on what it means to be a Chicana who is also a weirdo.
Now I can say that. It’s okay to be a weirdo. It’s okay to be queer. It’s okay to not be completely the picture traditional femininity or to not be catolica, like all my neighbors and family wanted me to be. I wasn’t any of those things. It felt like sort of a cultural wedge for me that I had to overcome and that I had to feel like I could be connected to all this and still be myself. I can respect all of this and be myself and still honor my heritage.
When I was younger I felt like a weirdo and that I was unsure of how I fit in. I feel that I was a punk pioneer. I didn’t feel like anybody said ‘you can’t be a musician because you’re brown or because you’re queer or because you’re a woman.’ I never thought anyone could stop me from doing anything I wanted to, except for me.